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What Do I Want to Eat?

If you’ve ever thought, What do I want to eat?, and then countered it with, What should I eat?, this post distinguishes the two!

One of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating is to challenge the food police.

This principle is a major one that comes into play when you think about deciding what to eat.

What Do I Want to Eat?

Sometimes, deciding what you want to eat, and thinking about what you should eat don’t align. And that’s okay.

We don’t have to eat our “shoulds” all the time.

Meaning, everything we put into our mouths doesn’t have to be 100% healthy or whole grain. Thinking this is an unhealthy way of looking at food.

Where to get ice cream in Montauk Harbor

Much of the discrepancy here is due to the food police, and how we are assigning these foods in our minds.

We may think one is “bad” and one is “good,” or one is good and the other is “better.”

Another determinant of our food choices is how hungry we really feel. I like to use the intuitive eating hunger scale with clients to determine this.

Learn to Challenge The Food Police

So, who is the food police? 

The food police is the inner voice inside our heads. It’s normal. We have all experienced it at some time or another, and still probably do sometimes.

The food police voice is the one that tells us we don’t deserve dessert because we didn’t exercise today (which can lead to compulsive exercise).

Or, the voice that categorizes foods as “good” and “bad.”

The food police views our actions, or lack of actions, as willpower.

It bases our choices on what others may think of us, rather than satisfying ourselves.

Obeying the food police means succumbing to external pressure and validity, rather than tuning into our internal voice.

The food police is everywhere. Your old teammate who thought she had to eat less meat to run faster.

Or, a coworker who declared she’s given up carbs for good because carbs make you gain fat (yes, all carbs she says…gasp!).

Even the trainer at the gym telling you to eat clean. These instances, whether people are trying to influence you or not, can play a role in our inner minds.

But, we don’t want to let them!

breakfast scone with whipped cream on top

I was out to dinner on Saturday for wine and tapas night. I love wine and I love tapas because I can try a bunch of things.

But when I sat down to the menu, though I had previously planned on ordering tapas, I made a last minute decision that I was hungrier than two smaller tapas plates.

So I nixed the plan, and went with the steak. Because that’s what I wanted in the moment.

And honestly, the cocktail menu sounded too good to pass up, so I settled for two cocktails rather than two glasses of wine. I was very pleased with my choices.

Learning to Ignore Your Hunger

The food police can also show up and tell you not to eat because you ate an hour ago.

“You shouldn’t need to eat again, Sarah. You ate oatmeal for breakfast, and oatmeal is healthy. Wait until lunch.”

But, this goes against everything we want to do in building trust with our bodies. This tarnishes that trusting relationship.

Our body is giving us a sign to honor hunger, and we’re purposefully ignoring it.

Ask Yourself, What Do I Want To Eat?

Check in with yourself periodically and ask, “What do I want to eat right now?” If you’re on your way home from work, ask yourself, “what do I want to eat tonight?” 

These questions are important to honor those cues. 

snack plate with popcorn, peppers, tomatoes, almonds, carrots, chocolate

What the food police doesn’t know is how your body operates and what you want. It’s just going to throw information at you, but won’t tell you how to utilize it.

The food police doesn’t know that you exercised for longer yesterday, or that you added an upper body workout in.

Maybe you ate half the size of dinner last night than you normally do.

No wonder you’re hungry. If you’re hungry, that’s a sign from your body for fuel. If You’re Hungry, eat! 

What Food do I want to eat?

Do I want something crunchy? Sweet? Salty? Savory?

A snack or a full meal?

We all know whole grains are great and all, but sometimes you might just want white rice or white bread, or white dough pizza!

grain bowl with tofu and side of la croix

And the food police might tell you to never eat white anything because it will spike your blood sugar (this is wellness culture in disguise).

But if that’s what you want, then that’s what you should get. Pair it with protein for a complete meal because your body will feel better when you do that.

One food decision doesn’t matter…we make 16400 of them a day. The important thing is we learn to eat more of what makes us feel good for the long term.

One food decision doesn’t matter…we make 16400 of them a day. The important thing is we learn to eat more of what makes us feel good for the long term.

Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN

In this post about intuitive eating and exercise, I talked about how it’s very important to tune in to your hunger cues, satiety cues and signals from your body.

What do you really want and what will make you feel good?

holding two freshly baked vegan breakfast cookies with chocolate chips

Sometimes you also have to use your brain a little bit, too, and turn up the mind knowledge part of nutrition.

For example, if you’re asking yourself, “What do I want to eat?,” the answer may be “nothing.”

You may not feel hungry at the moment, but you know you’ll be at an event without food in reach for 4 hours.

Therefore, you know that you should eat something as a form of self-care and to keep your energy stable throughout the event. 

Remember, you are different from each and every person out there. What works for them won’t necessarily work for you.

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  1. This is such a wonderful post! I definitely make make my desicion at the restaurant.. to my husbands dismay, I love looking the menu over when we go out! He always orders an app immediately when we sit down knowing I’m going to take my sweet time making sure I don’t miss out on a great meal option!

  2. I’m a last minute ordered- I like to listen to what my body wants at that minute! my cravings are always changing

  3. I definitely do a whole lot of planning as well! All those food photos are making me so hungry!! I’m definitely one to pick out my order ahead of time–it’s partly because I love food and get so overwhelmed by all the choices, haha. It helps to lessen my decision-making time! 😛

  4. Your perspective is incredibly refreshing. It seems like there is an all or nothing mentality in the healthy living world, and it perpetuates a guilty cycle because it doesn’t allow for flexibility in our diet. We can honor our hunger cues AND nourish our bodies AND enjoy treats. Life is a heck of a lot less stressful when we embrace that. I’m still learning though 🙂

  5. I love this! I have been trying to get onto the intuitive eating train and while I haven’t been the most successful, I have been able to shut up my food police. To answer your question, I usually pick restaurants based on a specific dish that I want to eat. I rarely go out to eat because I am trying to build up savings, so when I do I know what I want!!

  6. I love the way you described this! The food police is less of an issue now for me than it used to be but its still around! Often times I don’t even know what I want, so planning ahead works ok for me.

  7. Oh gosh – so much truth is ALL of this!
    I’m a huge planner, so I typically have a meal planned out ahead of time unless I’m going some place new. That being said, I HAVE changed my order once or twice when I’ve arrived based on how I’m feeling in the moment!

  8. These are great tips. I have really tried thinking about how food will make me feel when deciding on a menu. And I typically love looking at a menu ahead of time, but sometimes I get there and I’m craving something different. We are going to a wedding this weekend where we didn’t get to choose our meals, I don’t like the unknown of what’s for dinner.

    1. Our bodies are ever changing, and we can certainly crave something different than we originally plan. All the power to being flexible 🙂

  9. I’m getting better at picking what I want to eat, not what I should eat especially when we go out to eat. I used to always get a salad because I thought I should get that because all the other dishes had way too many ‘calories.’ Now I’m finding a great deal more food freedom, and it’s so incredible. 🙂

  10. Since I can’t have gluten or dairy, I definitely glance at a menu before to just make sure I will have options. Other than that, I decide once I get there based on my mood. This is a great post, Sarah! I’m guilty of food policing but have gotten a lot better over the years!

  11. 16400 food decisions a day? Geez louise. No wonder we exhaust ourselves. I hate the food police. I hate them even more than the ones that give you parking tickets. You are right – they have no basis to tell us what we should eat because they just have no idea what we’ve done or will be doing or what we simply want. I’m getting much better at just making a decision on the spot at restaurants, but I still have to fight away that urge to look at menus before hand and pre plan.

    1. haha we make so many decisions – I may have exaggerated that number but it’s alot! I think sometimes it’s fun to just decide right at the table what to order.

  12. Yes yes yes yes yes. And I love how you bring up at the end that sometimes we do need to use our brains. I get that question a lot since I’ve been an intuitive either for over two decades. Sure I’m an intuitive eater – – but if I know I’m going to be on a road trip or at a conference or something like that I most definitely plan ahead!!